CCF’s student intern program is a magnet for young people who are passionate about cheetahs and wildlife conservation. Student experiences at CCF Namibia can be a very valuable part of their academic programs, and can help define choices and successes in their careers. CCF ‘s holistic approach to conservation ensures that students in specific disciplines see how all the disciplines come together to protect the cheetah.
We caught up recently with one such student intern – now Dr. Jaden Dales, DVM. HBSc. Zoology – who is a veterinarian with a busy practice in Ontario, Canada working with a range of zoo, exotic, and wildlife as well as companion animal species. Since she needs to see her patients where they live, she established a mobile unit that allows her to reach these animals in the comfort of their own environment.
In our conversation with her, Jaden reflected on her experience as a student intern at CCF in 2017, and how her time there both broadened her horizons and provided her with invaluable lessons that she regularly draws on in her own practice in Canada.
Jaden first started being involved in CCF’s work to save the cheetah in the early 2010’s. She has had a life-long passion for wildlife conservation, and knew from an early age that she wanted to work with cheetahs. In 2015, Jaden had the opportunity to meet Dr. Laurie Marker at a Cheetah Canada event in Toronto.
Not long after, Jaden was accepted as a veterinary student at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) at the University of Guelph. Her passion for zoo, wildlife and exotics never wavered throughout school as she was a member of multiple OVC clubs involving and representing zoo, exotics and wildlife and volunteered with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.
In addition, Jaden was the class liaison for OVC’s Comparative Medicine course, encouraging and assisting her classmates’ studies with her passion. She also fundraised at the OVC on behalf of CCF for International Cheetah Day during her veterinary studies.
Jaden’s professional goal throughout school was to build the necessary foundation to become a free-ranging wildlife vet, with a focus on African wildlife, especially cheetahs. In 2017, Jaden had the opportunity to take part in OVC’s Global Vets program, where she and her student colleagues volunteered at four international placements all working directly with animals, including CCF. (See article about her 2017 visit.)
In Jaden’s view, the OVC student team quickly saw CCF’s multi-faceted approach to building community collaboration and that CCF’s work was enabled and made sustainable by empowering local communities. In the vet clinic itself, Jaden and her colleagues were impressed with the CCF veterinary clinic’s high caliber of medicine, especially for being in such a remote location.
Her experience at CCF imparted valuable learning, especially about working with free-ranging wildlife, where respect as well as being able to administer aid on an urgent basis are vital. The CCF vet at the time, Dr. Robin Gieling, was an “excellent role model” who instilled flexibility, versatility, and positivity into her practice. In her own practice now, Jaden strives daily to ingrain the same values into her work.
With this experience in the field, Jaden continued her academic focus on zoo, exotic and wildlife animal medicine as much as possible. In her fourth year of her veterinary medicine degree, three rotations working with exotic animals at North American zoos provided excellent experience. For Jaden, these opportunities strongly confirmed her interests and allowed for networking opportunities.
After graduating from OVC in 2019, Jaden joined a veterinary practice at a small animal clinic whose clients included a private zoo. With her long-held passion for zoo, exotic and wildlife species, Jaden soon established her own mobile practice, maintaining the service for the private zoo as well as providing veterinary care to a variety of mixed species clients.
In Jaden’s current work with exotic animals, the emphasis is on collaboration and research. She is part of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, which does a great job of keeping their members connected. On occasion she reaches out to zoo vet colleagues around the world for case support as she says, “One of the main things you need to realize as a zoo veterinarian is that you will never know how much you do not know. Some cases or scenarios you may only ever see once in a career. But regardless…you must always be willing to apply what you know with what you’ve researched to ensure the best outcome possible.”
“Collaboration and research are both incredibly important parts any style of medicine, and zoo, wildlife and exotics are no exception. Whether I’m collaborating with keepers to ensure the patient is taking its medication properly, reaching out to colleagues regarding case assistance or discussing a novel medication, as a zoo vet you must be willing to put yourself out there and do the case research to ensure you are providing your clients and patients with the best options and therefore medicine possible.” ~ Dr. Jaden Dales
Jaden’s goal of being a wildlife vet, working directly in conservation, and working collaboratively with others in helping animals has never wavered. She has continued to be a great supporter of CCF: speaking at our events, championing the Global Vets program at her alma mater, and staying up to date with all of CCF’s work in Namibia and Somaliland. Jaden hopes to visit CCF again in the near future, this time as a veterinarian who can volunteer her zoo, exotic and wildlife skills to CCF’s incredible cause.
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